Sophie Shapiro Associate Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024 Over the past few months, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun an investigation against Twitter, specifically into Elon Musk’s personal role in various high-profile decisions including massive layoffs, rapid changes to Twitter’s features and the sharing of internal company records with journalists.
Over the last several weeks we have seen mass layoffs across big tech, including Salesforce, Twitter, and Meta. This comes after big tech peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic when it was essential to the nation in keeping us virtually connected. During the lock down tech giants’ profits soared as consumers upgraded devices, maximized increased storage, and were forced to get creative in communicating in the workspace. However, inflation, rising interest rates, and digital spending are driving big tech companies to implement large-scale layoffs as the economy prepares to take a downturn. While Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, described the announcement as one of his hardest decisions, Twitter CEO, Elon Musk, has taken a different approach, causing continuous chaos that has led to compliance risks.
Twitter made the news once again yesterday after removing a tweet by Dr. Scott Atlas, one of President Trump’s main White House Coronavirus advisors. The tweet, which questioned the effectiveness of wearing masks in combatting the virus, was said to have violated a policy on misleading information relating to COVID-19.
This comes just days after Twitter was criticized for “limiting sharing” of a New York Post article because it exposed private information (read: personal email addresses) and contained material obtained through hacking.
Allegations that big tech companies are guilty of “censoring” information on their social media platforms are far from new. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2018 revealed that 72% of the public thought that social media platforms actively censored political views. Results from this year’s version of the same survey found roughly the same results.
Even the President has waged a war against Twitter. His criticisms of Twitter for “silencing conservative viewpoints” escalated to threats of “shutdowns” or at least heavy regulation in response to the site adding a fact-check warning to tweets that claimed that “mail-in ballots are fraudulent” without any evidence. Not long after, Trump signed an executive order attempting to punish social media companies.
The Internet has given millions of people the capability to share information with each other with just the click of a button. People have grown accustomed to learning about current events, researching, and gathering information all through digital news sources. Unfortunately, the ease of the Internet has also created complications with regulating how users share that information. As technology rapidly advances, the legal limitations concerning intellectual property rights have become blurred, resulting in different interpretations of the Copyright Act of 1976. This has complicated user compliance and created difficult questions for the courts to answer based largely on law that was created before many of the capabilities of the Internet existed. There is a need for consistency and balance in this area of the law so that copyright owners are afforded adequate protection and the Internet can continue to serve as an information gathering, content sharing platform without fostering infringement.